Critical Essay on <i>36 Views</i>
Naomi Iizuka’s play 36 Views takes its name from a series of woodblock prints by nineteenth-century Japanese artist Hokusai. The series is entitled 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Despite its title, the series consists of forty-six prints. Even before a character casts a single word, Iizuka, with her creative title, has foreshadowed that her play will be rich with questions concerning what is real and authentic.
The first half of act 1 is set at a party for a renowned, reclusive contemporary artist named Utagawa. The party is being held at Darius Wheeler’s loft space. Although the artist has yet to arrive, many people are mingling in Wheeler’s loft. Wheeler approaches Setsuko Hearn and their conversation quickly becomes philosophical. They are discussing beauty when Wheeler presents Hearn with a ninehundred- year-old jade figure. Wheeler holds the jade figure and states, ‘‘human touch, it alters the stone, there’s a kind of chemical reaction, it actually changes the color of the stone. With each touch it changes over time, almost imperceptible, impossible to replicate. Very old jade like this, it comes in these translucent colors I can’t describe, beautiful, unimaginably beautiful.’’ With subtlety, Wheeler has revealed that he views beauty as something in flux, something changing and, thus, impermanent. The jade is beautiful, and yet it is dynamic. Even though it is different with each touch, it is always beautiful. Wheeler is enamored and repulsed by this because he wants to be perceived as a philistine. Outwardly, he projects the image that he sees nothing but monetary value in the art that he deals. However, deep inside his soul, as shown in his love of his jade figure, Wheeler is truly drawn to the philosophical aesthetic in a thing.
Iizuka raises interesting questions as the characters in the play have conversations about the authenticity of art at Wheeler’s party. For example, Claire Tsong and Elizabeth Newman-Orr are having a conversation over several pieces in Wheeler’s loft space. As the two characters view an art object, Iizuka writes:
ELIZABETH NEWMAN-ORR: . . . . Real? CLAIRE TSONG: Iffy. ELIZABETH NEWMAN-ORR: It looks real. CLAIRE TSONG: Lots of things look real. . . . ELIZABETH NEWMAN-ORR: You sound like an expert. CLAIRE TSONG: It’s not about expertise. It’s all about the eye. ELIZABETH NEWMAN-ORR: The eye? That sounds so hoodoo. CLAIRE TSONG: It’s like it’s physical, you know. I’m talking about a physical sensation, an instinct. It is like there’s an invisible thread between you and this thing.
In this exchange, Iizuka builds into the fabric of the play a philosophical concept of human understanding: the relation between objects and perception as a construct of reality. Tsong’s ‘‘invisible thread’’ is an example of eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume’s theory of ideas and impressions. For Hume, impressions are ‘‘all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will.’’ Ideas, on the other hand, derive from impressions that occur in the mind. Hume states, ‘‘All ideas, especially abstract ones, are naturally faint and obscure: the mind has but a slender hold of them.’’ The ‘‘invisible thread’’ is the relation between an impression and an idea. Even though Newman-Orr thinks that Tsong’s ‘‘eye’’ sounds like hoodoo, it is actually quite reasonable. Tsong is able, through training and through paying special attention to her impressions, to organize her ideas to create a keen knowledge of authentic art objects.
What is more interesting, though, is what Tsong does with her understanding of authentic art. In the last half of the act 1, David Bell, compelled by some unseen force, lies to his boss, Wheeler, and fabricates a story about an ancient but recently discovered, eleventh-century pillow book. Amazingly, Wheeler believes Bell’s story. Suddenly, Bell is thrust into a conspiracy with Tsong. The two, with Tsong’s constant prodding, decide to construct the fake pillow book. For Bell, the fake artifact is a vessel for a story he has welling up inside his very being. As Bell tells Owen Matthiassen at the end of the play, ‘‘I don’t remember writing what I wrote. It’s like it was written by another person. . . . Maybe in a past life.’’ However for Tsong, the fake artifact is a way to actualize her feelings of contempt for the authentic.
Tsong is repeatedly frustrated by her work as a restorer. She struggles with her role in the restoration of artifacts because she sees them as ‘‘bric-abrac for the leisure class’’ and ‘‘just capital.’’...
(The entire section is 1920 words.)